A Somerville attorney was arrested by the FBI on Friday after authorities allege he attempted to bribe the Medford police chief to help secure a Host Community Agreement needed for his client to open a recreational marijuana dispensary in the city last year.
Sean O’Donovan, 54, was taken into custody in West Yarmouth after a grand jury indicted him on two counts of honest services wire fraud and one count of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, according to First Assistant U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Joshua Levy.
“This is a case about greed and attempted public corruption,” Levy told reporters.
Prosecutors allege O’Donovan offered $25,000 in cash to a close relative of Medford Police Chief Jack Buckley to speak with Buckley regarding a Host Community Agreement for one of his clients, a marijuana business that was seeking to open its doors in the city.
The agreement is a crucial step for marijuana companies to operate, as they need one in hand before they can apply to the state’s Cannabis Control Commission for a license, Levy said.
“Mr. O’Donovan did not bribe a public official, he did not discuss bribing a public official, and that the charges against him constitute an unprecedented extension of federal criminal law that we intend to vigorously challenge in the courtroom,” O’Donovan’s attorney Martin Weinberg said in a Saturday email, according to the Associated Press.
Buckley serves on a five-member committee charged with reviewing applications for the agreements and making recommendations to the mayor for final approval.
Levy said O’Donovan stood to be “richly rewarded” for landing such an agreement for his client. If the business were to open a location in Medford, O’Donovan, in addition to his $7,500 monthly retainer, was to receive 1 percent of the dispensary’s annual gross profits — an influx for O’Donovan projected to be over $100,000 per year, according to Levy.
When O’Donovan allegedly approached Buckley’s relative with the offer, the relative — identified in the indictment as “Individual 1” — brought the matter to Buckley, who, in turn, contacted the FBI, Levy said.
“He rejected the notion of abusing his office to line his own pockets,” Levy said, of Buckley.
Through the investigation, the relative and O’Donovan met six times in various locations in Somerville over the course of months — interactions the FBI recorded on video, according to Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI, Boston Division.
Authorities also reviewed interactions between the two over text messages, he said.
“Time after time, we caught on camera, what we believe to be O’Donovan’s attempts to game the system and unfairly get ahead of his client’s competitors,” Bonavolonta said.
Levy said O’Donovan, as terms of the offer, wanted Buckley to rank his client favorably in the committee’s recommendations to the mayor and to use his influence with the mayor “to pressure her into entering into a host agreement” with the client.
In an alleged attempt to cover his tracks, O’Donovan sought to “falsely characterize” one payment as a loan, and then offered to pay the relative in cash,” Levy said.
“If I give you cash, there will be no trace,” O’Donovan allegedly told the relative.
O’Donovan also allegedly made a $2,000 cash downpayment on the alleged bribe in October, according to prosecutors.
Buckley never learned which marijuana business was O’Donovan’s client, and prosecutors believe the business was unaware of the alleged bribe offered by its attorney, Levy said.
Prosecutors said O’Donovan once proposed to his client that the business hire the relative as a consultant, but the client declined to do so, stating the business was an “above board company.”
“It is vitally important that host community agreements are awarded through a fair and transparent process — not through backdoor deals by bribes to those in positions of power,” Bonavolonta said during a press conference Friday. “Today’s arrest should be a clear signal to others who think they are beyond the reach of the law that anytime an allegation of corruption is brought to our attention the FBI will thoroughly investigate it.”
O’Donovan was scheduled to make an initial appearance in federal court in Boston on Friday afternoon.
“This case is about attempted corruption of government officials. I commend the chief of police in Medford for reporting this illegal behavior to the FBI immediately,” U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said in a statement. “We must ensure that greed and unethical conduct do not undermine the proper functioning of city governments across our Commonwealth. This prosecution does just that.”
The wire fraud charge provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison; up to three years of supervised release; and a fine of up to $250,000, officials said. The charge of federal programs bribery carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison; up to three years of supervised release; and a maximum fine of $250,000.
Last year, former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia was convicted in federal court for extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana businesses seeking Host Community Agreements in his home city.
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